Fantastic Four (2005)
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington. Directed by Tim Story.
I was not a comic-book reader when I was a kid, but every so often a stack of comics fell into my hands, either through some friend who had them lying around, or some family known to my parents who was shipped away by the Navy, leaving behind a box of books. While I remember very little of what I read, I do remember that most often, the stack would contain more issues of Fantastic Four than anything else. This means that I came to 2005’s Fantastic Four film with no real memory of—but a definite fondness for—its characters.
The makers of this movie did their best to erase even that. Ridiculously bad dialog, stiff acting, and more cheese than a chalupa turn what could have been a pretty good experience into little more than something to get through so I could mail the DVD back in time to get something good before the weekend.
Reed Richards thinks human evolution was triggered by clouds of cosmic energy from space. A bunch of these clouds are scheduled to approach Earth soon, but he has no funding to study them. Accompanied by his friend Ben Grimm (an astronaut I think he knows from days at MIT), he begs much wealthier MIT acquaintance Victor Von Doom for funding and facilities. Von Doom is also Reed’s romantic rival for the affections of Sue Storm, who now works in Von Doom’s company. The project is green-lit, and Richards,Grimm, Von Doom, Storm, and Storm’s younger brother Johnny leap into space to begin their study.
There’s an accident, and all five are exposed to the cosmic energy, some worse than others, resulting in mutations leaving Richards with a stretchable body, Grimm with a body seemingly made completely of stone, Sue with powers of invisibility and energy manipulation, Johnny with the ability to set himself on fire (and fly), and Von Doom with (I think) a body made of some super metal.
It’s not a bad setup, but within ten minutes of the opening credits, I was already wondering if I would make it to the end. Not only are there ridiculous amounts of space between lines in the dialog as if the actors are being fed their script through an earpiece first and then directed to repeat them for the camera, but characters are made to say stupid things, sometimes to let you in on what they’re thinking in ways nobody ever speaks, and sometimes to tell you the meaning of what you just witnessed, in case you’re an idiot.
Of the actors, only Michael Chiklis looks like he didn’t just see the script moments before filming his scenes, and I can’t tell how much of his character is him and how much is CGI, so it’s possible I’m crediting the wrong person here. Everyone else—and I mean everyone—is just awful, but Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic is the worst of all, ridiculously stiff (ironic, considering his character’s super powers), lost, and out of place. Chris Evans as the Human Torch usually adds lightness and ease to overly dramatic scripting, so I guess he gets a little bit of a pass for his sometimes awkward timing, and Jessica Alba is very pretty, but not pretty enough to make up for what I hope is a low point in her oeuvre.
What keeps the movie from being a total disaster is the dynamic of the characters. With their completely different skills, they do some pretty neat things in averting a bridge disaster one of them actually causes, and then in defeating Dr. Doom in the film’s climax. Bringing the comic book characters to life for the big screen was a great idea, so someone deserves props for making it happen. The heroes are interesting enough to rise above the actors who portray them, but only high enough to put this just north of must-miss.